For many years he was known as a coach whose CV lacked international success. In 2022, he became known as the coach who led Serbia to the championship. Daniele Santarelli won the Nations League with Turkey this season. The Italian Conegliano, who works at Imoco on a daily basis, talks in a special interview for “Wprost” about the time of success or the Polish national team, in which he wanted to work very much in the past.
Why doesn’t he turn everything into gold like Midas? When did the idea to play Ebrar Karakurt and Melissa Vargas come up? Why was he not surprised by the good form of Katarzyna Wenerska and what connects him with Stefano Lavarini? Joanna Wołosz’s club coach found time for “Wprost” during a series of meetings between Poland and Turkey in Mielec and revealed many details of recent coaching successes.
Michał Winiarczyk, “Wprost”: Are you still analyzing and thinking about everything more than you should?
Daniele Santarelli: I’ve dealt with overthinking today. I believe that a coach should be the type of analyst who constantly thinks about something. No breaks in this job. You don’t live by one philosophy, a pattern all your life. The work of a trainer consists in constant adaptation to changing trends, the environment and players. When you’re a coach, you live with problems, big or small. They don’t leave you even a single step. The longer you stay on top, the greater and more dangerous your responsibility. I am a trainer in a leading club and the world national team. I don’t have much margin for error here.
Did the previous and current season change a lot in your life?
A lot. The last time we spoke for a long time, I was still working with the Croatian national team. Since then, I managed to work with Serbian women, and now I train Turkish women. As I mentioned, with teams of this rank, the responsibility for the results is very high. I swapped one top squad for another, but the requirements stayed the same. In Conegliano, on the other hand, I knew from the first day that a demanding task awaited me.
Two years ago you told me that working in Croatia and Conegliano was developing for you, because the staff was not at the same level as Imoco. Today, both the Turkish national team and the club under your leadership are at the forefront of the world. You feel more pressure.
I often mention that I decided to take the pressure off myself. With every difficult task, I feel expectations or challenges. Pressure doesn’t matter much to me. It functions with the answer to the question: “What do I want to do?”. Today I can say that I want to be the best coach I can be.
Combining the work of coach Conegliano and the Croatian national team was fruitful at the beginning of my coaching career. I came to Imoco right away with a big task. I learned the job of a national team selector with the Croatians. Years later, I felt more confident to take more responsibility – for the fate of the best teams in the world.
After the gold of the World Cup with the Serbians and the League of Nations with the Turks, you are perceived as the “Midas of volleyball”. Everything you touch turns to gold.
Believe me, it doesn’t look like that. I was just lucky to be in teams where we had a well-defined goal and we performed it 100 percent of the time. I had the support of the federation, the players, the coaching staff. All I can say is that I tried my best. I had to earn a chance from such outstanding volleyball federations and I am happy that I was able to take advantage of it. My coaching career is progressing at a fast pace. I will not hide that there are many victories in it. But I’m certainly no Midas.
What’s harder to get – the Guinness World Record for the most wins in a row or the world championship?
We started thinking about the record when we were close to breaking it. At first, it was all about winning the trophy. We wanted to win to win the title. No one knew anything about some record of victories. The world championship was different. Already when signing the contract with the Serbian federation, I was thinking about this tournament. Yes, I had to get to know the composition and potential of this team, but when we came to Poland to compete, we wanted to take the trophy for ourselves from the first day. This success, however, was much more difficult to achieve, even though it required winning fewer games than the Guinness World Record.
You were surprised at the speed with which you achieved success with the Serbian women. You haven’t worked with them for a year, and you already had the second most important gold in volleyball.
You know what? It’s hard for me to answer unequivocally 4:52. I had a fantastic experience over these few months. When I came to the first training camp and saw all these great players, I was immediately motivated to work. For me, last season was full of premiere events. I took part in the Nations League and the World Championship for the first time. I wanted to show everyone that I was fit for this narrow circle.
As I mentioned before, I am a person who demands a lot from myself. I want to show that I can take advantage of the opportunities I get. Today, thanks to the 2022 season, I am a more experienced coach. However, my attitude does not change. I have some fixed goals in my head that I want to achieve, among others with the Turkish national team.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when you took over the Turkey squad?
(pause – MW note)
Good question that I can’t answer that easily. Certainly, taking over the national team after Giovanni Guidetti was not an easy task. I had to replace the best coach in the world who had worked with these players for years. I’m a different coach than him. We seem to be united by nationality, but in practice we are rather different.
Referring to what you’re asking – I think that when I started the first training camp, the biggest challenge was just to be a good coach – not for myself, but for the players and federations.
“From a player’s perspective, performing at a club – whatever it is – is like staying in a five-star hotel. Working for the national team is like camping. We’re talking about a different level of difficulty and realities here,” Guidetti told me when I spoke to him last year.
The national team is a challenge for everyone – coach, staff and players. You spend many months together in one place. In addition, there are three different games, which is also aggravating. At the club, after a game or training, you go back to your apartment and you’re free. You can do what you want. You can’t do that at a training camp, because you’re in a hotel. You eat, train and travel, and you have the same faces around you.
In the case of the Turkish team, we can talk about a little luck, because many volleyball players live in Istanbul, where we train. For me, it’s actually good, because I know that after being with the same people for a long time, the players want to change the environment for a moment. They can cut themselves off from the volleyball climate, and then work with full commitment during training.
When you think back to the 2023 Nations League today – what contributed to the success of the Turkish national team?
Huge motivation. We wanted to show everyone that we are in a small group of the best teams in the world. Everyone had the right attitude from the start. We did not lack the will and energy to work. Of course, in addition to motivation, we also had a very good sports level. I have no doubt that we presented great – and what is important – team volleyball. If we play like we did in VNL, we can continue to have similar results.
Was it easy for you to fit two attackers on the pitch at the same time – Melissa Vargas and Ebrar Karakurt?
Maybe I will surprise someone, but when I signed the contract, I already had this idea in my head. However, I wasn’t sure if it would pass the test until I saw them play together. After observing, I came to the conclusion that this idea is quite interesting. I saw its pluses as well as its minuses. The former outweighed the latter. We’ve been fine-tuning Ebrar and Melissa’s game together in training.
Karakurt has done a great job to settle well in her new position. In fact, I had a huge potential in attack. Few national teams can boast of so many options in attack. I’m really happy that I can train these volleyball players.
How would you rate the recent actions of the Polish national team?
I am not surprised by the result of the Polish women, because I knew it was a team with great potential. You probably remember that I really wanted to be the coach of your national team.
You were very close to taking over this team.
I wanted to be the coach of the Polish national team, because I saw great potential for success. I’d be a fool to pass up a chance to work with a team like that back then. In the end, the federation went for Lavarini, which was a great move. Today I can clearly see how everyone in your team works at the highest level. The team has very good players. It has a mix of young and experienced volleyball players. The Polish Volleyball Association has a great organization, the girls can count on numerous cheering fans, and Stefano does a fantastic job. They all deserved a League of Nations medal.
The Polish women won the medal without the well-known Joanna Wołosz in the squad.
The second quarterback, Katarzyna Wenerska, replaced her perfectly. If I’m not mistaken, together with Rzeszów she reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League twice.
It is no coincidence that she played well in the League of Nations. She is an experienced player, familiar with volleyball at a high level. Whenever my team plays against her, I instruct the players to pay attention to her, because Wenerska has great skills and can surprise her rivals. Asia Wołosz is one of the best quarterbacks in the world, but Stefano now has another good game designer up his sleeve.
When we spoke after the quarter-finals of the World Cup, you said that the rivalry between you and Lavarini cannot be compared to that between Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi years ago, because you are not such protagonists.
When asked the same question in May, Lavarini’s coach replied: “If we only consider trophies in the last year, Daniele in our competition is both Ronaldo and Messi.”
It’s not true, Stefano just wanted to be nice (laughs). Our job is complicated. We work for federations and players. We are not collectors of medals who flaunt them in the media and want to portray themselves as omnipotent. Stefano and I share a great passion for work and faith in the players we work with. When we see the satisfaction of the girls, our job is practically done. We, the coaches, are here to help and support them, not to control them.